Prime Climb Rules

How to Play Prime Climb

The Beautiful Mathematical Colorful Game

Prime Climb is a game of strategy and luck for 2-4 players.
Time: Roughly 10 minutes per player. Recommended for ages 10 and up.

In the Box

Prime Climb board
24 Prime cards
Multiplication table reference sheet
Two 10-sided dice
Eight pawns

In the Print and Play PDF

Prime Climb board
24 Prime cards
You’ll also need:
Two 10-sided dice
Two pawns per player


Lay out the board, shuffle the cards, place two pawns on Start for each player, and roll the dice to decide who will play first. You’re ready to go!

Goal of the Game

See the 101 circle? It’s the big red circle at the center of the spiral. The goal of Prime Climb is to land both your pawns on 101 exactly.


Players take turns until someone wins by landing both pawns exactly on the 101 circle. You are never allowed to move a pawn past 101. All players begin the game with both pawns at the Start circle, which counts as 0.

A turn consists of four phases: Roll, Move, Bump, and Draw.

1. Roll
Roll the dice. The two numbers you roll will be used, one at a time, to move your pawns. In other words, if you roll a 3 and a 5, you have a 3 and a 5 to use on your turn; you do not get to use an 8, a 15, or a 35.

In the case of doubles, you may use the number you rolled four times instead of twice. The “0” on the dice stands for “10.” You must use all your rolls.

2. Move
During your Move Phase, you add, subtract, multiply, or divide the number your pawn is on by a number you rolled and send that pawn to the resulting number. You must use all of your rolled numbers, one at a time. If you have Keeper cards, you may choose to play one or more of them before, between, or after applying your dice rolls. Your pawns may land on any space on the board, including occupied spaces. Pawns may never move to a space not on the board, such as negative numbers, non-whole numbers, or numbers greater than 101.

Example. Say you have a pawn on 14, and you roll a 3 and a 9. You could, if you chose, subtract 3 from 14 to land on 11, then multiply 11 by 9 to move to 99. Note that each die is applied one at a time. You cannot multiply 3 times 9 and use 27 for your move. 

For more details, see the examples further on in these rules.

3. Bump

If you end your Move Phase with either of your pawns on the same space as another pawn, send the pawn you landed on back to Start. Bumping is not optional.

Note: You can bump your own pawns.

Note: You bump a pawn only when you end your turn on an occupied space, not when you pass through an occupied space.

Example. You have a pawn on 31. Your opponents have pawns on 33 and 37. You roll a 2 and a 4, which you apply by adding the 2 to move from 31 to 33, and then adding the 4 to move from 33 to 37. You bump the pawn on 37 back to Start. You do not bump the pawn on 33 back to Start, since you did not end your Move Phase on 33.

4. Draw

You draw a Prime Card after your Move and Bump Phases are completed if

a) At least one of your pawns is on an entirely red space (i.e., a prime number greater than 10), and
b) That pawn did not begin its turn on that space.

You may draw only one card per turn, even if both your pawns end on red spaces. No card trading is allowed!

There are two types of Prime cards:

  • Keeper Cards
    If you draw a Keeper Card, keep that card, face up, for a future turn. You may play any number of Keeper Cards during your Move Phase. You may not play a Keeper card the turn you draw it.
Example Keeper Cards

Example Keeper Cards 

  • Action Cards
    Any card that does not say Keeper on it is an Action Card. When you draw an Action Card, immediately perform the action the card requires. If the Action Card requires you to move your one of own pawns, you must move the pawn that landed on the red space; if both your pawns moved to red spaces that turn, you may choose the pawn the card applies to. If an Action Card takes your pawn to an occupied space on the board, bump the pawn you land on back to Start. If an Action Card takes your pawn to a new red space, do not draw another Prime Card. In some positions, Action Cards may have no effect.
  • Example Action Cards

    After you play a card, discard it. If you run out of cards, shuffle the discard pile and continue drawing as necessary.

    101 and Winning the Game

    When your first pawn reaches the 101 circle exactly, remove it from the board. You cannot move to a number past 101, or “bounce off” 101.

    Example. You want to apply a roll of 7 to pawn on 98. You cannot roll to 101 by adding, and cannot roll forward 3 and back 4 to end at 97. The only options available are to subtract to end at 91, or divide to end at 14.

    After your first pawn reaches 101, you must apply all dice rolls to your remaining pawn. You win immediately when you can apply a die roll or Keeper card to land your second pawn on 101. You do not have to use both die rolls on your winning move.

    Do not draw a Prime Card when you land on 101.


    Example 1.
    With pawns on 4 and 26, you roll a 3 and a 9. You could:

  • Add 3 to move your pawn from 4 to 7, then multiply by 9 to move your pawn from 7 to 63.
  • Multiply by 3 to move your pawn from 26 to 78, then add 9 to move it from 78 to 87.
  • Add 9 to move one pawn from 4 to 13, and multiply by 3 to move the other from 26 to 78. Since 13 is completely red, you would draw a card.
  • You CANNOT add the 3 and 9 to use a 12. You CANNOT multiply 3 and 9 to use a 27. You have to apply the numbers on the dice one by one.
  • You CANNOT add 9 to 26 to make 35, and then multiply 35 by 3, for if you did, you would go to 105, which is off the board. You must stay on the board at all times. (It’s not enough just to end up on the board at the end of your turn.)

    Example 2.
    You roll double 2s, with a pawn on 78, and an opponent pawn on 42. This means you have four 2s that you must use. You could:

      • Add 2 (80), divide by 2 (40), add 2 (42), and add 2 (44). Note that even though you passed through a spot where an opponent had a pawn, you do not bump it back to start, because you did not end your movement phase on 42.
      • Add 2 (80), add 2 (82), add 2 (84) and divide by 2 (42) to end your turn at 42 and send your opponent back to start.
      • Divide by 2 (39), add 2 (41), add 2 (43), and subtract 2 (41) to end at 41, and draw a card.

    Example 3.
    People sometimes ask why you would ever subtract or divide. As you play more, you’ll see opportunities where subtraction and division open up great moves. Here is a case where you might want to divide. With a pawn on 64, you roll a 2 and a 3. You could:

  • Divide by 2 (32) then subtract 3 to end at 29. Since 29 is completely red, draw a Prime Card.
  • Divide by 2 (32) and multiply be 3 to end at 96! Division gets you closer to 101 than any of your other options.


    Q: I ended a turn on 26. That has some red in it. Do I still get a card?
    A: No. Only take a card if you land on a circle that is entirely red, like 29. 

    Q: Can I apply a card to either pawn?
    A: If it’s a Keeper card, yes. Otherwise, Action cards apply to the pawn that is on the prime number. If both pawns are on red circles, then you may choose which pawn the card applies to.

    Q: I was on 99 and rolled a 2 and a 5. Can I just use the 2 to get to 101 and forget about the 5?
    A: Yes! If you have a second pawn, you must apply the 5 to it. If not, the game ends as soon as you land on 101, and you don’t have to use the 5.

    Q: When both tokens land on a prime number, do I draw one card or two?
    A: Just 1. The advantage in this situation is that you get to choose which pawn the card applies to, if it’s not a Keeper.

    Q: When using division does the die number need to exactly divide the board number?
    A: Yes. Do not use fractions or rounding when you divide.

    Q: When a token lands on 101, do I draw a card?
    A: No.

    Q: Do I have to move?  If the only thing I can do is subtract, do you have to move backwards?
    A: You do have to move. That may mean moving backwards. In the unlikely event that you are forced to go below 0, you stay at 0.

    Q: Do Action cards apply only to the pawn that landed on the red square?
    A: Yes. If both pawns landed on a red space, you may apply the action to either pawn.

    Q: In any one turn, can I move one pawn OR both?
    A: Yes! Depending on the situation, moving one pawn might be a better move than moving both, or vice versa. Making this decision is an important part of the strategy of Prime Climb.

    Q: I drew an Action Card that said I should reverse to the nearest pawn and send it back to Start. But the nearest pawn behind me is also my pawn! Do I send my own pawn back to Start?
    A: Yes. In some situations, including this one, you may have to bump your own pawn back to Start.

    Using the Colors

    The Prime Climb board is color-coded to make multiplication and division easy. Every time you multiply, the colors of the two numbers multiplied together are combined.

    For example, say you have a pawn at 14 and one of your rolls is a 3. You decide to multiply 14 by 3, but aren’t sure what that product is. The colors will tell you. Notice that 14 is orange and purple, while 3 is green. That means that 14 times 3 will be orange, purple, and green. The only circle with exactly those colors is 42, which is 14 times 3.

This works for division too. Say you want to divide 84 by 4. When you divide, all you do is remove the colors of the smaller number from the bigger one. In this case, you need to remove the two oranges in 4 from the colors in 84. That means you’re looking for a number with the colors purple and green. Sure enough, 21 has precisely those colors, and 84 divided by 4 is 21.

For players who haven’t mastered all their arithmetic, you can use the the colors to check your math, or even do the work for you! In other words, you can start playing now with whatever you know, and the colors will help you. As you learn more math, you’ll see that more is possible in Prime Climb!


Double Time

In normal game play, Bump and Draw Phases happen after all your moves are completed. In Double Time, you bump and draw after each move a pawn. You can draw two or more Prime cards per turn in Double Time.

Way Stations

Choose one or more prime number(s) between 30 and 80. Before a player can move any pawn to 101, they need to land a pawn on the chosen space(s). This is a good variation for players who have begun to master the strategy of the standard game.

Prime Sprint

Whoever gets a single pawn to 101 wins. A perfect game when time is short. This game often takes less than five minutes.

Prime Decline

Instead of starting at 0, both pawns start at 101, and must get to 0. If your pawn is bumped, it is sent back to 101.

There and Back Again

Get both pawns in to 101, and then back to start. When you are bumped, you get sent to 101 or 0, whichever is worse for you.

Solitaire Variation 1

Get two pawns from 0 to 101 in the minimum number of rolls you can. Play only with the 9 Keeper cards that allow you to add or subtract your pawn by a certain number. Keep track of your rolls, and try to break your record!

Solitaire Variation 2 (There and Back Again Solo)

Same as Variation 1, except you have to get your two pawns to 101, and then back to 0.

About Math for Love

Prime Climb was created by Daniel Finkel and Katherine Cook of Math for Love, a Seattle-based organization devoted to transforming how math is taught and learned.

Find out about our current mathematical and educational projects at

Copyright © 2014 Math for Love

Comments 31

  1. Ted

    New rule: People with a Phd in Mathematics should be handicapped with a blood-alcohol level at least twice the legal limit when playing against people who do not have a Phd in Mathematics.

  2. Lee-leng Chew

    When you are at 99, and you get 3 & 5, do you reach 101 anyhow, or do you go one step back to 100 if you choose to move 3 steps?

    1. Post

      In this case, you would have to subtract by 3 to go to 96. After that, you could add 5 to end at 101!

      You are absolutely not allowed to use the three to go from 99 to 100 by “bouncing back” from 101. You also can’t go to 102 and declare that a winning move. You have to land on 101 exactly.

    1. Post
  3. Tim Dierks

    I noticed the following ambiguities or points of argument in the rules:
    1. If a pawn begins a turn on red space and is not moved during that turn, the rules, red literally, would indicate that one should draw another card (you “ended your Move Phase on an entirely red space”). If this is the intent, I think it should be clarified, but I suspect the game plays better without it.
    2. However, if so, you should also clarify if a pawn moved away from a space, then moved back to that space (e.g. if you roll double 2’s, you can move 2 ahead, then 2 back, then 2 ahead, then 2 back, to consume all 4 2’s) should also be allowed to draw a card.
    3. I suppose one might raise a question as to whether such a move is legal (consuming your points with no resultant movement to the pawn). I don’t see any reason why not in the rules, but it’s possible that such moves are undesired.

    Thanks & best wishes,
    – Tim

    1. Post

      In the rewritten rules above, we’ve clarified point #1. (Your interpretation was indeed our intent.) Originally, I thought that you should be able to draw a card if you leave a red space and then return to it during your turn. On testing it, I actually think it’s better if you have to arrive at a new red space–one you did not start your turn on–to draw a card. Of course, this is a perfect place for house rules in case people think it is better the other way.

      As for whether the move is legal, it is certainly possible, and sometimes advisable, to move back and forth and effectively “undo” your move for the turn. This is most common in the case of doubles, when you are already close to 101.

      Thanks for these thoughts and suggestions!

  4. Jay Nelson

    We’ve been playing since receiving the Kickstarter game. The instructions are very clear and concise (moreso than just about every game we’ve ever played), but we still ended up with some minor issues that could be clarified. Something should be added for each of the items below. We’ve made our own conclusions, so please let me know if any of them are wrong:

    1) When an Action card says to “Roll Again”, it means another “Roll, Move, Bump, Draw” sequence.

    2) Action card: “Advance to nearest pawn and send back to start”.
    – If my own pawn is closest to the finish, and I only have one, the action card is discarded without any effect.
    – Does this Action apply to my own pawn when both are the closest to the finish?

    3) Draw: As long as a pawn remains on a prime number at the end of your turn, even if it has not moved during the turn, a card is drawn. The same pawn may cause one card to be drawn each turn for several successive turns. (Does this mean an Action card which results in “Roll Again” can cause a 2nd Action card to be drawn at the end of the 2nd Roll, Move, Bump, Draw sequence and so on until the last Action is not a “Roll Again”?)

    4) With multiple players and the desire to continue playing to determine 2nd place, the winning player discards all keeper cards immediately after winning and prior to the next player’s turn.

    I’ve also noticed that the colors of the cards are a little bit inconsistent. It would help clarify the actions and keepers if they were more distinguishable.
    Action cards are Gray and so is the Keeper 1 card. It would be ideal if Keeper cards and Action cards were colored with a different color than any of the prime factor colors. All Keeper cards should have one color theme, and the Action cards a different color theme.

    We’ve enjoyed playing and like that fact that a game is fairly quick. I recommend it to friends with elementary school children. I hope you have follow on games that have a little more strategy to them. Nonetheless this game was one of the top games in our collection this year.

    Thanks for inventing it and making it available!

    1. Post

      Let me hit these points one by one.

      1) When an Action card says to “Roll Again”, it means another “Roll, Move, Bump, Draw” sequence.

      > Totally correct.

      2) Action card: “Advance to nearest pawn and send back to start”.
      – If my own pawn is closest to the finish, and I only have one, the action card is discarded without any effect.
      – Does this Action apply to my own pawn when both are the closest to the finish?
      >Yes! You can bump your own pawn back to Start, and that’s precisely what happens in this case. We have now included this situation in the FAQ above.

      3) Draw: As long as a pawn remains on a prime number at the end of your turn, even if it has not moved during the turn, a card is drawn. The same pawn may cause one card to be drawn each turn for several successive turns. (Does this mean an Action card which results in “Roll Again” can cause a 2nd Action card to be drawn at the end of the 2nd Roll, Move, Bump, Draw sequence and so on until the last Action is not a “Roll Again”?)

      >We’ve clarified this in the new version of the rules. Now a pawn has to move to a new prime number–not the one it started the turn on–to draw a card. This is true even if the pawn leaves and returns to the same prime number.

      4) With multiple players and the desire to continue playing to determine 2nd place, the winning player discards all keeper cards immediately after winning and prior to the next player’s turn.

      >I think this is a great house rule.

      I like your suggestion about color-coding the Keeper vs. Action cards. I’ll see if it makes sense to do that.

      Also glad you’ve enjoyed the game! I’m curious if you’ll find there is more strategic possibilities as you play more. I feel like I haven’t arrived at anything close to an optimal strategy yet.

      Thanks for the feedback!

  5. Ferdinand Beaman

    You should clarify what happens if an action card sends your pawn to a new prime number. The easiest example is the “reverse your digits” card, which even uses the example “73 to 37”.

    1. Post

      We’ve corrected this in the next version of the rules, now on the page above. I believe it is now clear that you would not draw another card in this case.

  6. David Vander Laan

    A couple typos you may have already noticed:

    1) The quasi-word ‘ve’ in the Prime Sprint variation.

    2) And the jauntily punctuated ‘youJre’ in the There and Back Again variation.

  7. Ron

    I would suggest in the 2. Move section: put the Example after the sentence “You must use all of your rolled numbers, one at a time.”

    The “If you have Keeper cards…” sentences can go after the example; they’re nuances and don’t affect the example. Those first two sentences of 2. Move are the core of the game–and the game is great, thanks for making it!

  8. Nicole

    I really like this game. Great to play with my kids.

    We had some doubts:

    1) when the first pawn reaches 101 the player just play with one pawn. What happens when this pawn is on 64 and the player gets double 4? Can the player move the pawn to 80? Can the player move the pawn to 48? Or the only move is add and subtract the number 4?

    2) the first pawn reaches 101 and is out of the game. The second pawn is on 83 and we get the following numbers 3 and 7. We can only subtract 3 and add 7?

    Thanks for your help.

    1. Post

      Glad you like the game, Nicole!

      To answer your questions, if you have only one pawn, and it is on 64, and you roll double 4, then you could move to 72, 80, 56, or 48, by adding/subtracting fours in various orders. You could also end at 64 by adding two fours and subtracting two fours.

      But those aren’t only options. You could divide by 4 (16), add 4 (20), add 4 (24), and multiply by 4 (96). This is arguably a better move, since you end at 96, in striking range of winning. There are other good options too. Sometimes dividing is a better move!

      In the second example, you could add 3 and then add 7 to end at 93. You could add 7 and divide by 3 to end at 30. You could subtract 3 and add 7 to end at 87. Not as many options as the first case, but still quite a few.

  9. Emily

    Gave this to my math-loving kiddo for his 7th birthday two days ago and have already played it a dozen+ times! Your FAQ’s help a lot with understanding different situations that arise, but we just had a new one. His first pawn was already off the board, and his second pawn ended the turn on 97, so he drew a card. It was the keeper 4 card. Can he then play that on his next turn to reach 101 without rolling, or does he have to roll, play at least one of the numbers, and then he can play a card?

    Thanks for the fun and interesting game!

    1. Post

      Hi Emily,

      While technically the roll phase happens first, you’re allowed to use Keeper cards before you use either of the numbers you rolled, so if your son makes it to his next turn without getting bumped, the Keeper card will win him the game no matter what he rolls.

      Thanks for your feedback!

  10. bill

    Love the game. Love the questions above, and that you’ve clarified rules in response to good points raised. Here’s one we can’t figure. Rules say “If the Action Card requires you to move your one of own pawns, you must move the pawn that landed on the red space; if both your pawns moved to red spaces that turn, you may choose the pawn the card applies to.”

    How does this apply to the switch two pawns on the board card? I’d argue that the card does not “require you to move one of your own pawns” as it, unlike some of the other action cards, does not say direct that the action has to involve your pawn. Correct?

    Also, am 99 % sure this is correct, but opening moves can both be made to a single pawn, correct? Meaning, e.g., 9 and 0 you can move one to 90 (or 19) and leave the other in start.


    1. Post

      Thanks, bill!

      You are reading this card correctly. It means switch any two pawns on the board. It doesn’t matter which pawn landed on the prime number.

      You’re also correct about the opening move. On the opening move, or any move, you can apply both your dice rolls to either pawn, or one die roll to each pawn.


  11. Mike

    Great game. For the keeper card “Play this card on an opponent. On their following turn, they may only subtract and divide”, I assume that restriction (subtract and divide only) applies to keeper number cards the opponent wants to play also?

    1. Post
  12. Amy

    I am playing with some advanced third graders and we want to know the purpose of the circles along the edge (2.,3,5,7,P)? Sorry if we missed in in the directions!

    1. Post

      It’s actually not mentioned explicitly in the directions, and it’s not vital to gameplay. It’s more of a key to help read the board. Every time you see a purple stripe, that means there’s a factor of 7. Every time you see a green stripe, that means there’s a factor of 3. And so on with the others. The P stands for all the other primes aside from 2, 3, 5, and 7.

      Hope that helps!

  13. Julie

    Four of our prime cards are completely blank (they have the logo on one side, but are completely white on the other side). Is there a purpose for those cards? I couldn’t find anything about them in the instructions. Love the game!!

    1. Post
  14. Janette

    We are excited about this game! Question. If one rolls doubles on the first turn, how are those 4 numbers played? Start is zero so this can only be add/sub. I can’t add 2 numbers to each pawn as that would land them on the same space. So we are adding 1 dice “9” to 1 pawn and 3 “9’s” to the other pawn. Is this the only option?

    1. Post

      Here’s an example. Say you roll double 5s. You could add five (one pawn goes to 5), then multiply by 5 (that pawn goes to 25) subtract 5 (that pawn goes to 20) and multiply by 5 (that pawn goes to 100). You can mix operations in that way.

  15. Heather

    What happens if your pawn is closest to 101 and you draw the card that says “Advance your pawn to the nearest pawn and send them back to start”. Do you move your pawn to 101 or just not move at all?

    1. Post
      1. James

        Hi Dan – Does that also mean that the intention for when you get the card “Reverse your pawn to the next pawn and send that one back to the start” is that you wouldn’t move if you were the pawn closest to 0″?

        1. Post

          Correct. And you also don’t move backward if other pawns are on 0, and you’re the closest pawn to zero aside from them.

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